Wednesday, November 29, 2000

Hopes ride high for 2 N. Ky. teams

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — The city administration offices could be nearly empty Friday if all the Newport Central Catholic High School grads working there make the trek to Louisville to see their beloved Thoroughbreds play for the state Class A football championship.

        Among the NCC alumni involved in city government are Mayor Tom Guidugli (Class of '69), City Manager Phil Ciafardini ('78), city attorney Mike Schulkens ('69), city clerk/water works director Frank Peluso ('73), and City Commissioner Jerry Peluso ('76).

        Mr. Ciafardini said he will definitely be on hand at Cardinal Stadium in Louisville on Friday when NCC takes on Danville at noon in the championship game. The Thoroughbreds are seeking a second state crown; they won the Class AA title in 1984 and played in the final game in 1985 and 1986.

        “I wouldn't miss it,” Mr. Ciafardini said. “There are a lot of good memories associated with the school. And it's especially nice to see the team do well when things didn't look so good at the start of the season.”

        The Thoroughbreds, 10-4, weren't considered contenders for the Class A title back in August but overcame a slow start to win four straight playoff road games to earn the trip to Louisville.

        Jerry Peluso said he would “love to go to the game, but I can't get away Friday. I have to sell Christmas trees (at his Peluso's Grocery on Monmouth Street). But I'll be there in spirit.”

        His cousin, Frank Peluso, likewise said he was still trying Tuesday to work out his schedule to permit a trip to the title game Friday.

        “I want to see them bring back the title, whether I'm able to be there or not,” Frank Peluso said. “There's a great tradition at Newport Central Catholic. And I would like to see this happen for (head football coach) Bob Schneider, who is a great person and a great leader.”

        Mr. Schneider, in his 35th season as head coach and 41st year as a coach and teacher at NCC, drew similar comments from Jerry Peluso and Mr. Ciafardini. Although neither played football in high school, they both praised Mr. Schneider's reputation and leadership.

        NCC Principal Bob Noll said Tuesday that a pep rally is scheduled at the school for Thursday afternoon after classes. “The team will leave Friday morning for Louisville,” he said. “I'm not aware of any plans for a fan convoy to the game.”

        Mr. Guidugli wasn't certain Tuesday whether he would be able to get away Friday, although his wife, Jenny, who works at NCC, said she was definitely going to be in Cardinal Stadium for the noon kickoff.

        “I know she's going,” Mr. Guidugli said with a laugh. “But I'm still trying to work it out. And I have two reasons to go to Louisville, because my nephew is playing in the game Saturday.”

        Gino Guidugli is the record-setting quarterback for the Class AAA Highlands Bluebirds, the team up the hill from Newport in Fort Thomas that holds the Kentucky record for state football championships at 14 and is expected to stretch it to 15 Saturday in the championship game against Owensboro in a rematch of last year's title game won by Highlands.

        While NCC is returning to the title game after a 16-year hiatus, the Bluebirds are old hands at bringing home state championship trophies, including the last two in a row. In Fort Thomas, football fans have come to expect nothing less than the best.

        Highlands football is something of a mirror of the city where families live in the same neighborhood for generations. The football team has seen sons and grandsons of the same family in the blue-and-white Bluebird uniform over the years.

        Senior linebacker Brent Grover is a perfect example: his father, Dr. Rick Grover, was a standout on the 1970 state championship team and went on to the play football on scholarship at the University of Cincinnati. His grandfather, the late Dr. John Grover, was the Bluebirds' team physician for many years.

        Highlands (13-1) was ranked among the nation's top 15 teams in eight national ratings, including the ratings, where it was third, putting the Bluebirds in range of a mythical national championship before a 21-14 loss to Cincinnati Elder at Paul Brown Stadium on Sept. 16.

        Highlands High School Principal George Frakes said the school isn't making too big a fuss as the days wind down toward Saturday's title match with Owensboro.

        “We want to stay low-key,” he said. “We'll have a pep rally at the school Friday, and a send-off for the team at 7:30 Saturday morning. There's a reception for the team at 5:45 (p.m.) Saturday.”

        Highlands' 14 state titles were won in 1960, 1961, 1964, 1968, 1969, 1975, 1977, 1981, 1982, 1989, 1992, 1996, 1998 and 1999.

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